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Reverend and learned Sirs,
THESE discourses (most of them at least) having by the favour of your patience had the honour of your audience, and being now published in another and more lasting way, do here humbly cast themselves at your feet, imploring the yet greater favour and honour of your patronage, or at least the benevolence of your pardon.
Amongst which, the chief design of some of them is, to assert the rights and constitutions of our excellently reformed church, which of late we so often hear reproached (in the modish dialect of the present times) by the name of little things; and that in order to their being laid aside, not only as little, but superfluous. But for my own part, I can account nothing little in any church, which has the stamp of undoubted authority, and the practice of primitive antiquity, as well as the reason and decency of the thing it self, to warrant and support it. Though, if the supposed littleness of these matters should be a sufficient reason for the laying them aside, I fear our church will be found to have more little men to spare, than little things.
But I have observed all along, that while this innovating 346spirit has been striking at the constitutions of our church, the same has been giving several bold and scurvy strokes at some of her articles too: an evident demonstration to me, that whensoever her discipline shall be destroyed, her doctrine will not long survive it: and I doubt not but it is for the sake of this, that the former is so much maligned and shot at. Pelagianism and Socinianism, with several other heterodoxies cognate to and dependent upon them, which of late, with so much confidence and scandalous countenance, walk about daring the world, are certainly no doc trines of the church of England. And none are abler and fitter to make them appear what they are, and whither they tend, than our excellent and so well stocked universities; and if these will but bestir themselves against all innovators whatsoever, it will quickly be seen, that our church needs none, either to fill her places or to defend her doc trines, but the sons whom she herself has brought forth and bred up. Her charity is indeed great to others, and the greater, for that she is so well provided of all that can contribute either to her strength or ornament without them. The altar receives and protects such as fly to it, but needs them not.
We are not so dull, but we perceive who are the prime designers, as well as the professed actors against our church, and from what quarter the blow chiefly threatens us. We know the spring as well as we observe the motion, and scent the foot which pursues, as well as see the hand which is lifted up against us. The pope is an experienced work man; he knows his tools, and knows them to be but tools, and knows withal how to use them, and that so, that they shall neither know who it is that uses them, or what he uses them for; and we cannot in reason presume his skill now in ninety-three, to be at all less than it was in forty-one. But God, who has even to a miracle protected the church of England hitherto, against all the power and spite both of her open and concealed enemies, will, we hope, continue to protect so pure and rational, so innocent and self-denying a constitution still. And next, under 347God, we must rely upon the old church of England clergy, together with the two universities, both to support and recover her declining state. For so long as the universities are sound and orthodox, the church has both her eyes open; and while she has so, it is to be hoped that she will look about her, and consider again and again, what she is to change from, and what she must change to, and where she shall make an end of changing, before she quits her present constitution.
Innovations about religion are certainly the most efficacious, as well as the most plausible way of compassing a total abolition of it. One of the best and strongest arguments we have against popery is, that it is an innovation upon the Christian church; and if so, I cannot see why that, which we explode in the popish church, should pass for such a piece of perfection in a reformed one. The papists I am sure (our shrewdest and most designing enemies) desire and push on this to their utmost; and for that very reason one would think, that we (if we are not besotted) should oppose it to our utmost too. However, let us but have our liturgy continued to us as it is, till the persons are born who shall be able to mend it, or make a better, and we desire no greater security against either the altering this, or introducing another.
The truth is, such as would new model the church of England ought not only to have a new religion, (which some have been so long driving at,) but a new reason likewise, to proceed by: since experience (which was ever yet accounted one of the surest and best improvements of reason) has been always for acquiescing in things settled with sober and mature advice, (and, in the present case also, with the very blood and martyrdom of the advisers themselves,) without running the risk of new experiments; which, though in philosophy they may be commendable, yet in religion and religious matters are generally fatal and pernicious. The church is a royal society for settling old things, and not for finding out new. In a word, we serve a wise and unchangeable God, and we desire to do it by a religion and 348in a church (as like him as may be) without changes or alterations.
And now, as in so important a matter, I would interest both universities, so I do it with the same honour and deference to both; as abhorring from my heart the pedantic partiality of preferring one before the other: since (if my relation to one should never so much incline me so to do) I must sincerely declare, that I cannot see how to place a preference, where I can find no preeminence. And therefore, as they are both equal in fame, and learning, and all that is great and excellent, so I hope to see them always one in judgment and design, heart and affection; without any strife, emulation, or contest between them except this one, (which I wish may be perpetual,) viz. which of the two best universities in the world shall be most serviceable to the best church in the world, by their learning, constancy, and integrity.
But to conclude, there remains no more for me to do, but to beg pardon of that august body to which I belong, if I have offended in assuming to myself the honour of mentioning my relation to a society, which I could never reflect the least honour upon, nor contribute the least advantage to.
All that I can add is, that as it was my fortune to serve this noble seat of learning for many years, as her public, though unworthy orator; so upon that, and other innumerable accounts, I ought for ever to be, and to acknowledge myself,
Her most faithful, obedient,
and devoted servant,
Novemb. 17, 1693.
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